Performing to Perfection

“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them, so I did not consume the Children of Israel in My vengeance. Therefore, say: Behold! I give him My covenant of peace”

(Bamidbar 25:10-12)         

In this verse, the Torah spells the name פינחס (Pinchas) with the added letter י', unlike in other verses, where this letter is omitted. Moreover, in the above-quoted pasuk, the word שלום (peace) is written with the letter ו' divided in two (Kiddushin 66b). A Sefer Torah with even one letter partly erased is invalid. But this word has one letter written split purposely and is not rendered invalid. What is the reason for this broken letter?

The reward for a mitzvah is not in this world (Kiddushin 39b). This world is the world of doing; the Next World is the world of receiving reward (see Eiruvin 22a). Why did Hashem change His ways by offering Pinchas reward for his zealousness while he was yet in this world?

The Mishnah (Avot 2:4), “Do not believe in yourself until the day you die” will provide an answer. A person should never feel he has already reached perfection. As long as he lives, he is liable to sin, thereby reducing his spiritual level. Perfection is only in the World to Come, but striving for perfection is the work of this world. If a person does not strive for perfection while yet in this world, he will never attain it in the World to Come. It is crucial to toil and expend energy in order to fulfill the purpose for which we were placed here. After a successful journey, one will arrive at his Destination perfect.

Bearing this in mind, one should act with the correct intentions. When he does a deed in the best way possible, it will propel him toward his goal. Often, a person does not act with true yirat Shamayim, but a desire for respect from others who might see him. Deeds done in this manner are obviously incomplete, for they lack their main component.

When Pinchas took up for Hashem’s honor by taking the spear and killing the Nasi of Shevet Shimon and the Midianite woman, there were those who charged him with being insane, or, alternatively, desiring to override Moshe, who had forgotten the halachah at the time (see Torat Chaim, Sanhedrin 82b). Therefore, Hashem added the letter י' to Pinchas’ name. This letter, borrowed from Hashem’s own Name, proved to one and all that Pinchas acted with the spirit of Hashem. His sole intention was to restore Hashem’s honor, which had been desecrated. This letter indicates the perfection of Pinchas’ deed, done altruistically and guided by yirat Shamayim. Ulterior motives played no role in his act.

The word שלום (peace) shares a root with the word שלמות (perfection). Rewarding Pinchas with the blessing of peace pointed to the perfection of his deed. Since no one in this world can achieve complete perfection, the letter ו' of this word is split. All good intentions aside, perfection is reserved only for the World to Come. One must make himself worthy of it while yet in this world, the world of deed. He must emulate Pinchas who did his deed with the right intentions and the genuine motive to reinstate Hashem’s desecrated honor.

Hashem wished to prove to everyone that Pinchas acted righteously, not spurred by any personal motives whatsoever. Therefore, He repaid part of his reward in this world. Had Pinchas displayed signs of acting with ulterior motives, Hashem would never have made this distinction.

It is well-known that Pinchas is Eliyahu Hanavi (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 46; see Rabbeinu Bachya, Bamidbar 25:11). He has two cloaks, one is this-worldly, and one is other-worldly (see Zohar II, 197a).  Since Pinchas, in the guise of Eliyahu Hanavi, has a Heavenly aspect, it was appropriate to appoint him part of his reward in this world, distinct as he is from the rest of humanity, who receive their reward in the World to Come.

As the parashah continues, the Torah describes the five daughters of Tzelafchad, who came before Moshe requesting their father’s inheritance, for he left no sons. The pesukim (Bamidbar 27:1-4) state, “The daughters of Tzelafchad, son of Chefer, son of Gilad, son of Machir, son of Menashe, of the families of Menashe son of Yosef drew near – and these are the names of his daughters: Machlah, Noah, Chaglah, Milkah, and Tirtzah.” Rashi (ibid.) expounds, “But further on it says, ‘Machlah, Tirtzah…” with their names listed in a different order. This tells us that they were all of equal importance.” The Ba’al Haturim (ibid. 27:7) adds that these women were wise, learned, and filled with the spirit of Hashem. They fortified themselves to bring their case before Moshe, requesting their father’s inheritance.

If the daughters of Tzelafchad were correct, and the halachah was in their favor, why didn’t the Torah make a point of teaching it to us previously? If the halachah is, indeed, that in a case where there are no sons, the daughters are the rightful inheritors, why didn’t Moshe know it beforehand, instead of having to ask Hashem now?

Hashem wanted these daughters to get the credit of the halachah becoming clarified through them (Sanhedrin 8a). A worthy deed comes about through a meritorious person (ibid.). The fact that they were the ones through whom the halachah was taught indicates that they were not motivated by greed or the desire for fame. Their father’s honor impelled them to make their request. They wanted him to have a remembrance in this world. The fact that the halachah was established through their act was proof that their intentions were pure, driven by the desire to reach perfection, and not, chalilah, out of conceit.

As the parashah continues, we read that Hashem told Moshe (Bamidbar 27:18), “Take to yourself Yehoshua son of Nun, a man in whom there is spirit, and lean your hand upon him.” Further, we read (ibid. 27:23), “He leaned his hands upon him and commanded him, as Hashem had spoken through Moshe.” Hashem had commanded Moshe to place only one hand upon Yehoshua, but Moshe placed both hands upon him, as Rashi expounds (ibid.), “Generously, much more than he had been commanded.” Why, indeed, did Moshe place both hands upon Yehoshua? Rashi explains that Moshe can be compared to a vessel which is full and brimming over; he generously filled Yehoshua with his wisdom. Moshe wanted to do Hashem’s will to perfection, appointing Yehoshua in the best way possible, in order that he would succeed in his task and lead Am Yisrael appropriately. Just as it is clear that Moshe wished to fulfill Hashem’s command to perfection, with no ulterior motive, so too, Pinchas, as well as the daughters of Tzelafchad, acted with the desire to attain perfection. They therefore merited some of their reward in this world, as proof of their righteousness.

The Torah (Bamidbar 25:12) states, “Therefore, say: Behold! I give him My covenant of peace.” The pasuk does not state, “Say to him.” Hashem wanted this message to be given to all Klal Yisrael, not only Pinchas. This was in order to prove his righteousness, and that he had acted without any ulterior motives. For this reason, he merited Hashem’s covenant of peace (שלום) indicating his perfection (.(שלמות

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